Tanuja Naidoo, CFO Transnet Pipelines: Invest time in people
“My best contribution as a CFO is that I aim to develop leaders,” says Tanuja Naidoo, who has been in charge of finance at Transnet Pipelines since 2009. After turning around the finance department, she was recently tasked to do the same in procurement and risk management at their Durban headquarters. The key to every successful manager is investing time in people, she says. “That is something I live by. I lead by example.
Where most CFOs list IT-implementation, efficiency drives or company growth, it is noteworthy Tanuja lists grooming her team as her biggest achievement. “You’re as good as the people under you,” she says. “I don’t see myself as being outside the team, but as part of a team that has a sense of pride in delivering results.”
Transnet Pipelines, formerly known as Petronet, is the custodian of the country’s strategic pipeline assets between Durban and Gauteng. It services key industries by transporting petroleum and gas products over varying distances. Tanuja says she does not only want to empower her colleagues, but also learn from them. “I want to go ahead and physically learn from the bottom up. The best thing was talking to the people on the ground during a road show. People do wonder where I find the time, but you have no idea how much you learn.”
Tanuja did her articles at Deloitte and moved to Transnet Freight Rail (then Spoornet) in 2002. “I had to work for the company, because the firm had paid for my studies at the University of Natal,” explains Naidoo. After two years at Transnet Freight Rail, she was offered a great opportunity at the Transnet Group Head Office and stayed. “I worked for six years for Transnet Group in Johannesburg as leader of the financial reporting team. I value my exposure received during that period. I got to be on the Board of the V&A Waterfront as well as serve as a trustee on one of the pension funds. It was great.”
For more than four years Tanuja headed the finance team in Durban. “When headhunters come calling, I always tell them I am not leaving,” she says. “Contrary to what you might hear, Transnet offers an excellent working environment. I also have a great amount of loyalty. They have invested a lot in me. I have been able to do things I wouldn’t have been able to do anywhere else. We have had a succession of CEOs at group level, which has created a lot of opportunities to build up experience that I would not have generally gotten if I had stayed in audit practice or went to a non-public corporation.”
Tanuja says young Chartered Accountants that are serious about furthering their careers would do well to stay with a company for a considerable amount of time, like she has done herself. “It is something I would fully recommend. I currently lead the training office for CAs for Transnet in Durban. While I find that for a professional nothing should be too menial, I don’t see that attitude with the youngsters that are coming through. It is all about job hopping and climbing the corporate ladder now, but climbing based on what? I believe progression needs to be earned.”
Although Tanuja is critical of the current generation, she does not want to sound too harsh. “Should money be a driver? Who am I to judge? I have no idea what people’s circumstances are and consequently what motivates them.”
Although Tanuja’s ambition is to work as a CEO at some stage of her career, she says she has “different priorities” in her life at the moment. She mentions her two young children, but also emphasizes the challenges she still wants to conquer in her current role. “Stabilize and innovate has been my task. The main thing is that we become more customer focussed and start enabling business better, because that is our function.”
During Tanuja’s period at TPL, considerable process enhancements have been implemented, with a focus on automation, for areas under her control. “We had to improve significantly on certain of our processes including the use of technology to facilitate faster turnaround times and more efficient processes, thereby leaving more room for analysis. Further, specific focus was given to eradicating the culture of working in silos whilst facilitating one of organisation focused – everybody needs to feel valuable and responsible for keeping the pipeline running. Instilling a sense of pride and achievement in what we have been employed to do, has been fundamental in achieving this”.
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